It’s 2AM on a Tuesday morning, the day before my Smarter Balanced testing at school starts, and what am I doing? I’m awake with a 5 month old who has decided that she simply does not want to sleep for the next two and half hours. When she sleeps at 4:30AM, I have an hour of possible sleep before grabbing coffee and bracing myself in the calm before the storm that is the opening of Testing Season, which we will kick off by running 11 testing rooms with a mixture of laptops and desktops.
For the next 4 hours, I hear a cacophony of my name being requested over the walkie, assist students in getting to the right spot, troubleshoot a laptop cart that somehow didn’t receive the testing browser install, help teachers log into WCAP accounts, help teachers load the test, and manage to walk 9,000 steps by 11:30AM. 3,000 steps alone by 8:30AM! My moment to take a breath comes from a quiet break to pump.
I repeat this frazzled state for the next 2 weeks as we attempt to test 350 10th graders in ELA, 300 11th graders in math, and 150 11th graders in ELA. Plus the cohort of 10th graders that district wants to take the math test and the group of 12th graders that need a graduation test. And, then we start on make-ups and absences…
Have Faith and Learn to Lose Faith Gracefully
Without a 1:1 environment, accessing the tests for our students can become a jigsaw puzzle that requires much more reliance on multiple teachers to proctor, rather than provide coverage for testing teachers. It’s not that my teachers aren’t reliable. But, when I think about a detailed oriented individual who does well with technology and stressful situations and reads all communication from me, well, I know that can’t be every adult in my building. But, if I am running 11 testing rooms, which are how many rooms must be run for all 350 of my 10th graders to test at the same time, I need 11-22 proctors available to cover the first two class periods of the day. See, we don’t stop school from happening for the rest of the school, which means I have to catch staff on planning or analyze rosters to find classes most affected by testing.
I warned staff that I couldn’t be in all 11 rooms at the same time and that it would look quite different from last year where we had 4 rooms maximum being run simultaneously. People needed to read directions, practice, and ask questions prior to our first day of testing. The pieces that fell through the cracks were likely the pieces that I thought would help me after the initial test. Things like, tell me your teacher/class schedule on your ID card and circle where each student is on a test. Did this happen as planned? No, not for all. When I got called into multiple rooms, I could lament that my teachers weren’t ready to proctor. Some didn’t even have their account and password ready to load the Smarter Balanced test. But, the students are staring at me and the teacher is stressed out, so I have to suck it up, log into the system, load the test, and send calming vibes into the room full of anxious students.
My rule became to pause before opening a testing room door, take a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and then proceed in to help. I also had to let go of the feeling that I wasn’t working hard enough or fast enough because I couldn’t be everywhere at once.
Trade-Offs are Inevitable
This year, we chose to mass test all our students, as much as technologically and directive possible in my building. Last year, we tested students with their English teachers over multiple days. Testing for the first attempt took 2 weeks per grade level. That’s a lot of random absences from your non-testing subjects as well as a lot of sub time for your English teachers who were proctoring tests with one of their classes. Again, we don’t have 1:1 and we aren’t allowed to touch our CTE computers for testing per district.
In order to test 350 students at once, we had to take over 5 labs, two of which belonged to our alternative program, and had to setup 5 laptop C.O.W.s in 5 classrooms with power strips, unraveling of power cords, and safely laying cords out in the room. After our 10th grade round of testing, these laptops had to be put back into the carts in order for them to be used the next day by classroom teachers who were starting a research project. Then, after their classroom use, we rolled them back out into classrooms for 11th grade Math testing. That’s a lot of managing. But, our teachers wanted less time to deal with mass absences and we wanted more access to resources to all our students, so we made it work. When it came time to run make-ups, I had a lot of catch-up to play because I didn’t have time during the regular test sessions to monitor the little pieces: students writing schedules on back of test cards, proctors circling if a test was absent, done, or paused, cards remaining in the test room rather than taken by the student.
Being a Test Coordinator is a Full-Time Job
I'm not a full time test coordinator. But, when Smarter Balanced hits, I am. My real job gets pushed to the wayside because I simply can’t do everything that I would normally do and set-up testing logistics, answer calls, run around the building solving problems, and keep track of who needs what test. Even run to Home Depot at 8:30AM when I realize that we bought the wrong surge protectors (we needed 10 outlet ones, not 6 outlet ones). There were at least 4 days during my 3 week testing period that I fell asleep at 8PM on my couch; I swear at least one of those days, I beat my daughter to bedtime.
Solution? I could manage less. I could say this was our 2-week window to test and now I’m done; it’s too bad they were absent or hadn’t enrolled with us yet. But, that’s not my style. If I am told to try to get everyone to test either for graduation requirements, AYP, or college and career ready standing...I will try, even if it means looking for a student for two weeks straight. Last year, I read the district binder cover-to-cover and had a sheet of questions to ask our assessment office. Our assessment office later told me that they spent testing season bragging about how they had one person read the entire binder. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t read the resource!
How testing is run at my school isn’t perfect, but it’s how we do it. The best way for us to move forward with the increasing digital environment of testing is that we talk amongst ourselves. How do you run testing? What pitfalls and successes have you found in your testing system? What major need to knows have you found to be successful with staff and students?
- Smarter Balanced Assessments